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Wheel Building

Wheels are for riding, they mean freedom, whether it be on the road from racing to touring or for off road riding - at The Cycle Clinic you will find wheels built just for you. 

There are a number of reasons why I build wheels rather than buy them in ready built from Mavic, Campagnolo, Fulcrum etc. One of the most important reasons though is that I enjoy building wheels. 

The other reason I have very specific ideas about what make a good wheelset and it does depend on a number of factors which I will elaborate on below.

Good wheels are stiff wheels. All wheels have three components of stiffness, lateral, radial and torsional. Stiffer wheels mean for a given load there are smaller tension changes in the spokes and small tension changes mean shorter length changes and that in turn means the spokes fatigue at a slower rate. Stiff wheels are easier to build as well. 

There are a number of factors that affect 

1) radial stiffness and that is mostly the profile of the rim, spoke count and spoke gauge. Rim mass is not that relevant to how radially stiff a wheel is. Rim profile is critical. Wider deeper rims require fewer spokes to create a stable long lived wheel.

2) lateral stiffness - this has nothing to do with brake rub. Brake rub happens when a stiff  rim is not sufficiently supported by the spokes for the loads placed on it. When this happens the rub happens. Lateral stiffness is only affected by spoke count, spoke gauge, bracing angle and rim stiffness. Spoke crossing affect bracing angle. The more cross the spokes are the lower the bracing angle. 

3) torsional stiffness - this is mostly affected by spoke count, spoke gauge, flange PCD and the angle the spoke makes relative to the flange. If the spoke is tangential to the flange then torsional stiffness is maximised. The large the flange the lower to pedalling or braking loads are on the spokes. This is particularly important for disc brake bikes. Hubs with large flanges reduce braking loads on the spokes. Flange PCD  has very little affect of bracing angle so when you see large flanges you know the reason now. 

Rims also have a torsional stiffness i.e resistance to twisting. Twist makes wheels feel sluggish. The BORG31 and BORG31DISC wheelset is an excellent example of a wheelset that not light but feels repsosnsive simply because the rim cant really twist. 

Therefore the wheels listed are built with the above in mind. Wheels with shallow rims have higher spoke counts than wheels with deeper rims. 

Rim choice:

Many wheel manufacturers are still wedded to 15mm internal width rims for the road, however, this is starting to change. Narrow rims are not optimal. Wider road/CX rims are now in production with internal widths in the 17-20.5mm range. This makes your tyres take on a wider profile i.e they become wider and therefore more comfortable, as lower pressures can be used. This does not slow you down in any way, on the contrary when cornering you should notice improved grip if you push hard enough. Why? Well, the same reason that cars come with low profile tyres these days - a better-supported sidewall flex's less and the amount of sidewall flex on a tyres dictates the amount of lateral grip you have. BORG road wheels have an internal width of 19mm. That suitable for tyres from 25mm through to 40mm with the proper shape. My Gravel/XC wheels use a 23mm wide rims. These are suitable for 36mm wide tyre to about 55mm. My MTB wheels use a 29mm internal width rim but proper tyre shape is achieved with a 55mm tyre minimum. Your better off with wider up 70mm is possible. 

Wide rims are stiffer than narrower ones which can lead to a problem. Stiffer rims don't bend much when side loaded so movement at the brake or chain stays is possible. To avoid this higher spoke counts or thicker spokes are needed. The BORG31 wheelset is a classic example of this. Sapim CX-Force force spokes are used instead of the lighter and less stiff Sapim CX-Ray spokes. If the lighter spokes are used, the wheel would still be reliable but brake rub would be more likely. The BORG31 Light gets away with CX-rays because the Miche SWR hubs support the rim better with a large non drive side bracing angle. Stiffer wheels result in smaller length changes in the spokes and that means a slower rate of spoke fatigue and that is good news for you and my reputation.

So you will find I mostly build with wide, stiff rims. There are my own BORG rims and other selected rims that I have built with many times before. 

Rims with an asymmetric design (to increase spoke tension on the low side) are available. This does help maintain spoke tension for those who side load wheels a lot and when tubeless tyres are used the tension drop is often savage so every little helps. The downside is a small loss in lateral stiffness. Its around 2% and can be ignored. 

Also the rims I use are generally in stock, so if you crash and damage one and they won't cost you the earth. 

There is also a large number of wider MTB rims and again tyres on wider rims just perform better than on narrower ones so why wouldn't you want that. BORG28, BORG35 are good choices. There are a few others I like but I find these rims are nice and robust.


I use Miche hubs a lot because they are brilliant in every way without breaking the bank. They are simple to service and provide, very reliable and provide good bracing angles. The other hubset I favour are made by Carbon Ti because they do all the thing the miche hubs do but weigh 224g for a pair. Spares for these hubs are readily available. 

There are a few other hubs I use and I should mention Royce because they are made in the U.K and oh so lovely. While I do build with White Industries, Campagnolo Record and a few others. I am not a fan of DT Swiss hubs. There rim brake hubs have a poor NDS rear bracing angle which compromises lateral stiffnes for no gain. All there hub have one flaw. The rear DS bearing is hidden behind a ring nut so to remove the bearing you need a special too and a vice. It unscrews like a screw on freewheel. If a hub is not user serviceable then I am not going to recommend it. DT Swiss hubs are not user serviceable so I am not a fan. Other hubs are reliable so there is no advantage DT Swiss hub bring. 

In 2020 there will be a BORG rim brake hub initally for triplet lacing but then as a conventional hub. This willl not replace the Miche Primato hub or the light weight carbon Ti hubs but sit along side them. The bearing used will be supplied by NTN and are frankly one of the best bearings you can buy. This hub is 387g so is not the lightest but it being made to offer the longest possible service life. Two 5mm allen keys as are that required to dismantle it. Bearing changes will be j frequent. The freehub bearings are easily changed. The freehub uses a 36t ratchet ring and 4 independently sprung pawls. The springs are strong so there is freewheeling noise. I'll think you'll like it. The hub has every spare available. I may never sell all the spares and that fine by me. I will ha e them regardless. In addition I will also carry stock of the bearings. Please do not buy the cheapest NTN bearing you can find or substitute a lesser bearing. The hub is machined to the tight tolerances shown by NTN bearings. Mid tier bearings like ENDURO will show shorter life and may damage the bearing seats. 

For road/CX disc brake, CX or MTB use I use BORG DX and some CARbon ti X-hub disc. The new BORG DX hubs are based on a Miche design that I have been using for a while now but now with centrelock mounts and SKF bearings made to a much higher specification that the standard ISO grade 0 tollarences. The freehub also has the same bearings and titanium pawl seats/freehub core. There are 2x6803 bearings in the front hub and 5x 6803 bearings in the rear hub. The flanges are large which reduces the braking loads applied to the spokes. The BORG DX hubs therefore don't have compromises. The Carbon Ti hubs offer similar advantages but with the addition of low weight  - 303g/pair. that comes at a price. 

All the hubs used are straightforward to service, if it is isn't I won't use it. Also I only use reliable hubs. Not keen or lightweight hubs that give the customer constant maintenance issues.


I use Sapim J-bend spokes mostly because they are not overpriced and readily available everywhere. 

There are myths about spaim spokes I should address here.

Fatigue is how spokes fail. Fatigue is caused by length changes caused by loading the spokes. Those length changes weaken the metal till eventually the spoke experience a peak load that's higher than it strength and then it pops. This is why replacing broken spokes is futile and other will follow. A failed spoke mean every spoke should be replaced. Now pre existing flaws in the spoke wire or defects in the spoke thread are a common cause of failure. Ultimately that's beyond our control. 

The length changes a spoke experiences in a wheel does depend on how stiff the wheel is. Stiffer wheels flex less so the length changes a spoke will experience for a given load will be lower. There fatigue happens a slower rate. 

Strength is not the failure load. Strength in material. Stress is load per unit of cross sectional area. Thinner spokes have higher ultimate tensile strength because they are thinner. The force and cx force spokes even though they have the same cross sectional area as the sapim race have higher strength so they have higher failure loads. So fatigue will take longer to do its thing with the Force  spokes than with the Sapim Race. Now you know I use them. That and the thicker elbow. 

Sapim state fatigue test show the CX ray has Sapim's strongest spoke. It also very thin. Its failure load is actually lower than the sapim cx force even though its strength is higher. You dont ride a spoke, you ride on a wheel. A stiffer wheel will generally show longer spoke life. So why are 29er disc brake mtb wheels built with CX Ray's, beats me. CX Ray's are not stronger in a way that means your wheel will take higher loads before failure or give you more miles before a spoke fails. It could be the other way around. 

Sapims results are not wrong. The way they are interpreted and used by some is wrong. 

So dont pick the cxray because its stronger. Pick it because it shows low aerodynamic drag and it light and in aero wheels like the BORG45DISC or the BORG50C it works well. 

You may also have gathered I dont offer wheelset where the customer gets told choose the spoke they have. If you want that you can buy the spokes of me and build yourself. If I am building the wheel it's with the spokes I am happy using so I can offer my usual guarantees. 

I have taken to doing some high-end wheelsets with straight pull spokes with Miche SWR and carbon Ti rim brake hubs but these hubs are a bit special and offer something unique.

My disc brake wheels mainly use Sapim triple butted spokes. This extends spoke life and allows me to use lower spoke count without having to worry about weight limits. For example, the Sapim Force and CX-force have a 2.2mm diameter at the elbow. This is 21% more cross-sectional area where it matters the most. So with these spokes, 24F/24R with 30+mm deep rims and 28F/28R with medium depth rims will be fine for most riders covering the normal weight range.

All wheels I build are done on the shop's Park Tool TS 2.2 and to ensure even spoke tension the Sapim spoke tension gauge is brought out to play. Spoke tensions are 1200N to 1300N DS (depending on the rim) rear and for the front 1000N. Tension variance should be no more than +/-5%. This ensures long spoke life and wheels that do not go out of true. All wheels leave the shop laterally true to within 0.2mm normally. Sometimes a wheel refuses to behave and 0.3mm of lateral wobble is seen, this is rare though. Anything beyond and I would pick another rim up and start again. The wheel should not ping when first ridden as I stress relieve them in the shop. Radial roundness is a tough one. This relies on the rim being round to start with. most rims are within 0.5mm roundness i.e total up down movement is 0.5mm. so wheels built by me have radial trueness within that figure (often it very round but its rim dependent).

A rim is worn if the rim wear indicators are no longer visible or the wall thickness of the brake track is 1.0mm or under.

Being a former physics teacher I do try to apply maths to what I do. One thing I want to make clear there is no such thing as a climbing wheel. I can prove it, well the spreadsheet I have made can. In order to get any measurable time saving on a climb you need to shed quite a bit of weight of the bike say 2 kg. This is not possible with wheels unless what you have is really heavy so while I quote weights on wheelsets please do not buy on that alone as I can assure a 1700g wheelset climbs just as well as a 1500g wheelset. So in general most of the wheels you find are in the 1450g -1750g range as that is light enough for any purpose. If you are racing and want every last marginal gain then enquire as I do build aero, stiff, light and wide rimmed wheels and that way you have all bases covered.

So whatever your wheel requirements whether it be road disc or rim brake, CX, MTB XC, MTB trial/AM, MTB DH, touring, commuting or leisure, The Cycle Clinic can help. Give us a call, drop in or e-mail. Wheels are what we do.


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